Posts Tagged 'Sweden'



On a clear day, you can see Labrador from about 38,000 feet. On Monday, the place was still frozen. Our plane was somewhere near the Quebec border; of course, it may even have been Quebec. It’s hard to see most borders on the face of the earth. A meandering river, thawed in parts, with ox bow lakes picked out by the snow and ice. This flight, on a nearly empty 747 (?!), really took me back to my roots in geography. Lots of good views of landforms. Holland’s barrier beaches (hey, Doggerland!) and vibrant rectangles of tulips. The sandy teardrop turned out to be Noorderhaaks. Then came the irregular hedged fields in southern England, still essentially medieval, in such contrast to the rough hills of Wales. Ireand was clouded over and I took up five empty seats to lay down. South of the St. Lawrence, the fields were long and rectangular, short ends abutting straight roads. Sky resorts in Vermont looked like a gigantic catamount had raked her claws down the slopes.Some of the lichen on the Jättekullen stones in Södra Härene, Sweden. This is a 4000 year old stone cist, or burial chamber, the largest of its kind in the country at 14 by 4 meters.

A Tale of Two Kingfishers

A female Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) in Green-Wood Cemetery recently. You almost always hear these birds before you see them. This one wasn’t rattling loudly, it was more of a whisper or grumble under her breath. Nonetheless, my ears crested, as it were, when I heard that dry sound.

I find Kingfishers generally intolerant of people. That’s no insult. But here’s a male I got a little closer to at the beginning of the year. It was in the same tree as this more recent female.While there are two other kingfisher species found in the Rio Grande Valley, the Belted is widespread across North American. Europe, meanwhile, has a single species, simply called Kingfisher or Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis). I finally saw one! This small, colorful species, which looks all the world like it belongs in a rainforest, is elusive.And, for such a vibrantly colored bird, it’s hard to pick out in the green. Here, for instance, are two in a park in Malmö, Sweden. This is about the northern limit of their range. (How I wish my photos were better!) Both Belted and Common have white spots to front of their eyes, but this isn’t at all universal among the 114 members of the kingfisher family.That turquoise!


The National Museum of Copenhagen is filled with flint tools from the pre-metal millennia. This stuff makes for very sharp edges. The stone of Europe’s Stone Age, flint stones were also used to start fires and spark guns into the 19th century. The Baltic beaches were littered with nodules of this dark chert. It’s a finely-grained quartz, not, as I first thought, obsidian (which is volcanic glass). This fist-sized and rather knuckle-like piece was my Swedish souvenir, found on a beach in Malmo. Here’s the verso and recto of a piece I split on the Northumberland coast a few years ago when my dearheart said the original piece was too large to carry back on the plane.The white coating here is typical. According to this site, “The thick white crust, the cortex, is not made of chalk, but of fine-grained opaline silica.”

The Blackbird of Song and Legend

The Common or Eurasian Blackbird, Turdus merula. Unlike our New world blackbirds, this is a thrush, and rather similar to the American Robin (Turdus migratorius) in habit. Our blackbirds are Icteridae; the thrushes are Turdidae. Our Robin, meanwhile, isn’t related to their Robin (Erithacus rubecula).This is the bird that bursts out of the pie, alive and grumpy, no doubt, from being covered in pastry shell and crowded together in there with three and twenty others. This is also the one that sings in the dead of night, which I can attest to from some short spring nights in the Scottish highlands.

For a common bird, they proved elusive on our Sweden trip. They were molting out of breeding plumage and therefore keeping low and deep.

Speaking of music: friend of blog Jose Conde has organized a concert for November 2 at Littlefield here in Brooklyn to celebrate his 50th birthday and raise funds for tree-planting in Costa Rica. Tickets are only $5; should they be more for this line-up?

Some Birds

The Swedish trip recedes swiftly into the past, but digital memory lives on! Here are a few of the birds I managed to get photos of:Great Tit (Parus major) at a Swedish-made bird feeder in the Botanical Garden in Copenhagen. This angle does not show the black streak running down the GT’s breast, so here’s another view:Compare with the Blue Tit:Cyanistes caeruleus.You should know both these silhouettes. Real Rock Dove (Columba livia) perched on bronze heron.Actual Gray Heron (Ardea cinerea). Smaller than our Great Blue (Ardea herodias).Wood Pigeon (Columba palumbus), seen with much greater frequency than Rock Dove.Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra), young and old. And why not another view of the situation?Eurasian Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus). Formerly lumped with North America’s Common Gallinule (Gallinula galeata).Spotted Redshank (Tringa erythropus).Adult breeding plumage is quite dark: an almost black breast and black legs.

Ariel Dorfman on Trump’s militant ignorance and the war on knowledge.


Harmonia axyridis, the Multi-colored Asian Lady Beetle, is known in the UK as the Harlequin Lady Beetle. “Harlequin” is a better common name than MALB, which is a mouthful and has a whiff of racial baggage to it, particularly when added to invasive. This one was one of two spotted in Denmark, the only lady bugs seen on this trip. The Swedes, meanwhile, really seem to like their spiders. There were many webbing the inn we stayed in. There were more than a few indoors. All fine with me. And here’s a neighbor in the Bronx, on a window-spanning web right in front of a fan blowing out. Has been hanging out for more than a month now. One of the biggest orb weavers I’ve ever seen, a good 2″ from toe to toe. Yellow-collared Scape Moth (Cisseps fulvicollis) back in Brooklyn. First time I’ve noticed the red tongue.

Red Squirrel Alert!

A Eurasian Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) scoping out the scene in Copenhagen’s Assistens Kirkegard (cemetery), where Søren Kierkegaard is buried. There were two; they were pretty camera shy.

This squirrel species is wide-spread across Eurasia, but is suffering in the UK from a disease introduced by imported Gray Squirrels from North America. Declines have also been noted in Ireland and Italy.

Raptor Wednesday at the Movies

The first sight of a church yard in Copenhagen triggered a memory that bloomed in Sweden. I’d seen such graveyards before: the gravel plots fenced in by foot-high hedges rigorously trimmed, the raked patterns in the somber gray sand. Very orderly, compact, clean.

It was all in the 1999 Swedish film Falkens öga/Kestrel’s Eye, about a pair of Common Kestrels nesting in a church building. The Swedish name for Kestrels is Tornfalk, which means tower falcon. How apt. In the film, we see the humans below come and go, tidying up their family plots; there’s a wedding and, inevitably, a funeral; hedge-trimmings are vacuumed up by a machine too big for the task. It’s all from the Kestrel’s POV (albeit without their greater span of the light spectrum!). The falcons dine on voles and, in one case, a lizard. Every descent to prey portrayed in the film is a successful kill, which is not particulately accurate; raptors miss a lot. The birds have six eggs. Five fledge: the fate of the sixth is not explicated; indeed, there’s no narration and the only human voices present are overheard from below.

Anyway, I found the film on Kanopy, which NYPL library card holders can use for free, and watched it again to refresh my memory. It turned out to take place at the very church in Skanör where we hunted for hedgehogs one night. The indented circle is where the falcons perched. Their nest was just below that to the left; you can barely see the top of the hole in the side of the wall. If I’d only realized this was the location as we ate breakfast next to it every day (the best breakfasts we’ve ever had out, by the way, even if there were no lizards or voles among the varied fare), I would have taken a more appropriate picture. The Flommen marshes, where we saw quite a few Kestrels hunting (perhaps the descendants of this pair?) are visible in a few scenes in the film. Skanörs borg, a ruin of a 13th century fort that’s mostly just a little hillock in the otherwise very flat terrain, is next to the church (parts of which date back about that far, too). This photo is from the top of the borg. The moat in the foreground was a lot less crowded with common reed in the late 1990s.

I also finally saw Birders: The Central Park Effect, 2012, on the same Kanopy platform. It was better than I expected. Though Central is justly renown as a birding location, I’m a Brooklyn boy and only get there a few times a year, if that. But I certainly recognized some names and faces from the bird-watching community there. Loved seeing the late Starr Saphir, a wonderfully flinty and wise birder. She talks about the second-best bird sighting she ever had from her apartment, a juvenile Goshawk — quite a good fire escape bird that — but this made me wonder what her best ever bird sighting was from her apartment.

So it turned out to be a bird film festival, because then I watched The Messenger: An Ode to the Imperiled Songbird, originally released in 2015. I know people are always looking for the silver lining, celebrating small victories in conservation, but the overriding story remains one of gloom, so damned well documented in this movie. Climate change, habitat destruction, hunting, city light pollution and glass buildings, cats, poisoning via pesticides, etc. are all resulting in fewer and fewer birds (and other animals, of course). “The messenger” is the old canary in a coal mine, as well as the ornithologists on the front lines. Meanwhile, a Frenchman who gobbles up Ortolans in contravention of the law insists he’ll stop when science proves to him that the birds are disappearing, echoing all those fisherman who said the same thing, denying the facts until there were no more fish to fish.

A rune stone in the Danish National Museum, at least a thousand years old. I like the way it echoes the first picture above.Bonus! Film studies comrades of yore: do you know which Swedish film opens with a short view of a Tornfalk hovering, here skillfully caught off the screen by your correspondent?

Muddy Duck

Ah, the White-breasted… wait a minute?Who the devil is this? These large, distinctive ducks were spotted all over Copenhagen.Took me a minute to figure out what I was looking at, later confirmed by our bird guide in Sweden. What do you think?


You can, I think, get most of these either by shape or name. Ek, alm, ask, are so close, and hasselThe famous escargot, Helix pomatia. Also known as Roman, Burgundy, or simply edible snail. Or, when in the Rome of the north, Snäckor. Introduced, running rampant in a slick way.Yeah, stickmygga.Damn it! Found on a trail looking drowned: Talpa europaea, the European mole. “But Mole stood still a moment, held in thought. As one wakened suddenly from a beautiful dream, who struggles to recall it, but can recapture nothing but a dim sense of the beauty in it, the beauty! Till that, too, fades away in its turn, and the dreamer bitterly accepts the hard, cold waking and all its penalties.” ~ Kenneth Grahame


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